Cultural Babywearing

Traditional Babywearing Mother

“I wish they had those when my babies were little!”

We modern babywearers often hear this sentiment ridiculously often.  I would be surprised to meet a babywearer who hasn’t been told this at least once.   Yet our baby carriers are modeled after carriers that have been used around the world for centuries.  The period of time in which European and American babies have not been worn, is really a very short gap and we are now returning to something more workable than strollers and bucket seats.  We are going back to something simple and functional.

If the theories in this article are correct, we are going back to one of early man’s first and most basic tools.

So while babywearing is not new, it is not something that most of our grandparents had any exposure to.  No one did it.   That is changing in a big way, but not enough that babywearing is second nature to us like it would be if we had been worn, had seen mothers all around us wearing, had worn our siblings while our parents worked…our whole lives.  Our generation is reclaiming a practice that, well, it takes some practice.  It will be easier for our children, who are already wearing their baby dolls, and some of them are wearing their siblings.

Here is a look at the way some traditional baby carriers are used today, and have been used historically:

Inuit mother with traditional Amauti baby carrier.

Inuit mothers wear their babies in their coats where both are kept warm.  A special coat called an Amauti is used to securely hold the baby behind mother’s back.  Here you can see one demonstrated:

 photo babywearingCradleboard_zps55ba5f50.jpg

“My grandmas told me that you don’t decide when the child is going to give up the cradleboard, it’s the child that’s going to decide. They say the sooner that a child leaves or pushes away the cradleboard and doesn’t want to use it—that means they’re going to mature a lot faster.” —Maynard WhiteOwl Lavadour

You can learn all about how traditional Mexican rebozos are used for babywearing on this site. Many popular wrap brands sell a rebozo length, and this is what that is modeled after:

The traditional Korean baby carrier is a Podegai or Podegi, seen here:

Here is a video demonstration of how to use a traditional Peruvian Manta to wear a baby on your back Peru-style:

Here a Honduran woman demonstrates how she wears a baby in a cradle carry on her back:

And a foreigner requests a toddlerwearing demonstration from a mama in Guatemala:

African Babywearing

African women often wear babies low on their back in a cloth wrapped around their torsos.

A grandmother in South Africa shows how she easily wraps her grandbaby up on her back in a towel tucked around her:

Again, in Benin, with a more traditional carrying cloth:


And a little girl in Ghana easily wraps a baby (probably her sibling) the same way, a little astonished at all the attention over something so mundane:

A Selendang is a garment worn by women in Java that is often draped about the head and shoulders and becomes when used for carrying personal objects (such as your baby):

Traditional Welsh Babywearing

In Wales, a shawl has traditionally been used to wrap the baby against the mother, tucked in around the baby with the baby’s weight holding it in place.  Shawls have been similarly used for babywearing in many other European countries as well.

Photo Instructions for how to use a Welsh shawl for babywearing:

Japanese Babywearing

In Japan, mothers would wrap their babies in their Obi sashes similarly to how we use a wrap.  More recently, in the 1940s, the onbuhimo became popular and now onbuhimos are available in Western markets, too.


  • Norashida Abd Rahman February 13, 2013 at 7:14 am

    Hi. thats me in the video 🙂 i always amazed with traditional babywearing and this post really great.


  • paz February 14, 2013 at 9:14 pm

    great article Diana!! and how funny Norashida found her video! she is the one from the last video 🙂 gotta send u a pic soon of my “double trouble back wrap” soon 😉 i have managed to place the 30+ lb and the 23+ lb toddlers in my back/sides :D!!! great workout if you like hiking like us


  • Claire February 20, 2013 at 10:49 am

    Thanks Diana! I am going to show this to my mother who insists that babies in other cultures are not carried once they reach a certain age – my third baby is just over a year old and I think she fears for my back!


  • Jasbir @jasbeeeray November 1, 2013 at 12:25 pm

    I was just about to share that the video of the selendang and share this with the person who made the video. Brilliant post. I too have the same sentiment, It’s amazing how these babywearing has been in place for aeons and only now its surfacing.


  • tonia dunkin March 22, 2014 at 9:35 am

    Thanks for all the tips and info! We don’t have a bunch of money to be spending on fancy-pants slings right now so this helps a great deal! I mean, if people in third world countries can figure it out, surely I can too lol


  • rhoda September 9, 2015 at 5:46 am

    Hi, nice post on traditional baby wearing – it has been part of a lot of cultures for many years.

    Just a correction – you talked bout the Khanga and East Africa but the videos and images you have used are not East African. You have clips from South Africa, Benin and Ghana, none of these are east African countries.

    For more information on east African baby wrapping please see below:


    • Diana September 9, 2015 at 10:11 am

      Thank you for pointing that out, Rhoda. I have looked for a video showing the Kanga used in East Africa and cannot find one that was taken by a person of that culture, so for now I have deleted the Wikipedia quote about the Kanga so as not to be confusing. I enjoyed your blog post very much! I would happily share the pictures of Emmy using the Kanga on this blog, although I expect you prefer that they stay on your site, which is understandable!


  • Adam December 31, 2015 at 5:14 am

    Just a correction,’African women do not wear their babies low on their all the time.They also tie around their shoulders and wear their babies on their upper backs so that the baby can look over their shoulders. But some African women with big booty prefer their baby low on their backs so that they can rest/sit on the booty.


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